By Rudy Mondragón
In This Corner…
Jonathan Walley is a 22 year old amateur boxer. Prior to boxing, Walley was a standout basketball player who had athletic scholarship offers to well known institutions of higher education. During his high school career, however, Walley got into trouble and found himself serving time in a juvenile center known for functioning like an adult state prison.
As a result of his detainment, Jonathan lost his scholarship offers. He tried community college, but it wasn’t fulfilling for him. Then, one of his closest friends introduced him to the sport of boxing. Walley described this moment as, all of a sudden, finding himself in the “best situation possible.” It was at that time that he met reputable trainer, Joe Goossen, from the Ten Goose Boxing Gym in Van Nuys. For Walley, Goossen has since become a fatherlike figure who teaches him lessons about life, principles, and morals.
It was at Ten Goose Boxing Gym where I first met Jonathan in the summer of 2015. Though he is a great athlete, it wasn’t his boxing skills that caught my attention at the time. It was the Black Lives Matter t-shirt he unapologetically wore that drew me in. In the Post-Ali era of boxing, where politically charged boxer-activists are hard to find (they exist though, trust me), it was refreshing to see Walley openly demonstrate his politics via his choice of fashion.
During our interview, Walley made sense of Black Lives Matter with a medical analogy to critique the idea of “All Lives Matter.” He stated, “it is like going to the doctors office with a broken arm and having a doctor suggest examining your leg instead… all bones matter, right, they do, but if this one’s broke, lets focus on this one.” In other words, Walley understands the importance of getting to the root issue of systemic problems. Without a functioning bone, the body cannot continue. Without addressing racism and power, this country cannot fully heal from the traumas of the past.
This two-part article focuses on Jonathan Walley’s experience as an amateur boxer who was dealt his first career defeat. I had the honor and privilege of sitting down with Jonathan before and after his July 30th, 2016 152 pound amateur match in the Elite Male division against Ivan Beltran. Jonathan displayed the excitement and confidence of a young man who was ready to enter the ring only to then hear him speak his truth about the sadness and loneliness he experienced after defeat. Below is Part I, which explores Jonathan’s pre-fight moments where his mind, body, and spirit were in tip top shape. Part II (forthcoming) will focus on the vulnerability and struggles he experienced after defeat.
It is Tuesday night during fight week and Jonathan’s demeanor is serious and focused. He is mindful of his food and liquid intake as anything too heavy can jeopardize his goal of making the 152 pound weight limit. We sit down for the interview during the dinner hour. I ordered a sandwich and offered Walley a meal. He respectfully declined the meal offer, but took me up on a glass of lemonade. He is the type of fighter who stays in the gym in order to be ready to fight at any moment. It is also a way for him to maintain his weight given his love for food. I asked him if the sacrifice of limiting his food intake the week of the fight was worth it. His response was one of optimism and positivity. He doesn’t see it as a sacrifice but more so part of the process. With less than 5 days till fight night, Walley is on a strict meal plan, no longer eating whole meals in order to make weight.
As a boxer, Jonathan describes himself as a “non-violent person.” He doesn’t limit the conceptualization of boxing as simply being a violent sport. Instead, he describes it as a “dangerous sport” that is no different than the dangers we experience on a daily basis in life. Walley engages in this dangerous sport because of his family, friends, and followers. He thrives on the aura he absorbs from them when they watch his fights. It keeps him motivated and energized. He loves to put on a show for them because he believes they provide him with the necessary validation and recognition to grow as a person.
Walley emphasizes that an amateur career is an important time for one to find themselves. By this, Walley means finding his fighting style and the right weight to compete in when he turns professional. Yet, this idea of finding himself also deals with identifying the necessary coping strategies to deal with the high pressures that come with the grimy boxing industry. The coping mechanisms necessary to deal with the struggles that come with defeat or career setbacks. Jonathan is finding out what he is made of. As quickly as one’s confidence sores in boxing, it can quickly be taken from them. Jonathan is learning how to embrace the idea of struggle to become a better man.
Jonathan feels he has done the excruciating work in the gym necessary to come out on top. He describes his training environment similar to a hot sauna. At the Ten Goose Boxing Gym, it feels as if the heater is turned up, the body heat of other boxers training increases the temperature in the gym, and on top of that, it is the peak of the summer season. These are not the most comfortable of training conditions. Yet, Jonathan smiles the entire time he paints this picture for me. The hard work has been done in the gym with Joe. He doesn’t fear the possibility of losing. He doesn’t believe in such a thing.
The remainder of Jonathan’s prep work for the fight consists of watching his weight, light workouts, and intellectual engagement. The intellectual side of boxing consists of strategy, deconstructing an opponent’s style, and learning from boxings greatest stars. Walley’s intellectual engagement comes in the form of studying fights on YouTube. For fight week, Jonathan’s video line up consists of the 1993 match between Pernell Whitaker and James “Buddy” McGirt, the 2004 match between Floyd Mayweather Jr and DeMarcus Corley, and the 2013 fight between Mayweather and Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero. He does this is to study Whitaker, Guerrero and Corley, who are southpaw fighters (left-handed) just like his July 30th opponent. Walley is a student of the boxing game who does the physical and mental work in and outside the gym.
Going into this fight, Jonathan knows his family supports him. He also knows that they do not like the fact that he boxes. It is the dangerous nature of the sport and the aftermath of a fighter’s career that worries them. Many times, boxing is all boxers have and as a result, they struggle once their careers are over because they do not have a back up plan. Jonathan believes he is different in this regard.
Walley’s back up plan involves food. Jonathan loves to eat and feels like a career in the food industry is in his future. He wants to open his own restaurant one day. The idea of a “back up plan” for boxers is an important topic of conversation that should be discussed with both amateur and professional fighters. It is a topic that deals with their present lives as fighters and the future they envision for themselves once their careers are over.
Boxing is a brutal sport that requires a back up plan. The reality, as Jonathan explains, is that majority of boxers do not have college degrees or come from homes where parents hold middle class jobs or have their own businesses they can pass on to their children. So what does a boxer do once their boxing career is over?
Engaging in this type of conversation is one of taking a fighter’s humanity into consideration. It deals with the well-being of the fighter after their bodes are no longer able to entertain boxing fans. Do managers talk with their fighters about life after boxing? How about promoters? Is there a system in place that supports fighters in this regard? I would say no as it does nothing for the movers and shakers of the boxing industry who are concerned with the bottom line: making money.
As Jonathan’s amateur fight on Saturday loomed, it was uplifting to know that he was thinking about his life after boxing. In a sporting industry that denies its employees minimum salaries, pension plans,* or health care, it is critical that boxers take control of their careers, their minds, their bodies, and their spirits. Jonathan is an agent of his own future and we should take note of it.
Stay tuned for Part II of “Boxing & Beyond: Jonathan Walley’s Pre & Post-Fight Experience.”
* California Professional Boxer’s Pension Fund has existed since 1983 and holds $5.3 million dollars for retired boxers over the age of 50 who meet certain criteria. Pension funds for boxers varies by state and is not currently a federal issue. Many boxing agents have advocated for the regulation of boxing in order to address issues of minimum salary, pension plans, and health care to name a few.